Winter wheat having a banner year in SD

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Winter wheat is looking good in central South Dakota, and the slight freezes over the weekend didn’t do visible damage, said expert crop watchers.

There were informal reports of temperatures dipping as low as 25 degrees over the weekend in the Onida area.

But Tim Luken, manager of Oahe Grain in Onida, said the winter wheat fields look unfazed by the frost.

“I live in Gettysburg, and when I came down this morning, I couldn’t see any damage on the winter wheat or spring wheat, from what I could see from the highway,” Luken said.

Ruth Beck, agronomy specialist for the state extension service’s regional office in Pierre, said she went out checking fields on May 16, too, and found no sign of freeze or frost damage on winter wheat.

“We are fortunate we are not further along,” Beck said of the cold temperatures. “From this stage on, the winter wheat is just more and more susceptible.”

The temperature at the airport in Pierre dropped to 31 degrees early May 14 and early May 15, but could have gone lower in areas outside the city and at lower levels, Beck said.

“There are a lot of good fields out there,” Beck said. “We had just a very good, long fall, and the winter wheat plants sent out a lot of tillers.”

Winter wheat had a great winter and spring, and nearly all the planted acres are expected to be harvested – a big change from last year when a dry spring hurt a lot of the crop, leading to farmers ditching it and planting a spring crop on the fields.

Winter wheat production this year is expected to be 28 percent higher – with average yields projected to be 52 bushels an acre, a good 8 bushels above last year’s figures – even though planted acreage last fall was 29 percent lower than in 2014.

The winter cooperated.

“I didn’t hear of anyone having any winter kill,” Beck said. “And we had some nice moisture this spring.”

Precipitation in the Pierre region is 1.1 inch above the 30-year norm since March 1, at 5.5 inches.

Enough moisture, in fact, to lead to worries about fungal disease for wheat crops, Beck said.

Luken said farmers already have applied a first round of fungicide to winter wheat fields. Another one can be applied a few weeks down the road, if needed.

“It’s been three, four years since we’ve seen (a winter wheat crop) look this good,” Luken said. “As long as we can keep the disease out of it, we’re in good shape.”

In its weekly crop progress report released on May 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s statistical reporting service said nearly three-fourths of the winter wheat in South Dakota is in good or excellent condition: 68 percent good, 6 percent excellent, a slight improvement from a week earlier.

The winter wheat was about at normal maturity, 60 percent jointed, ahead of 42 percent by May 15 last year; 5 percent was headed out by May 15, same as the five-year average for the date.

All but 3 percent of the spring wheat crop in the state was planted by May 15, ahead of the five-year average of 88 percent by now; 83 percent of it has emerged, compared with the average of 56 percent by this date.

Corn planting was 62 percent complete, about average, but behind 81 percent last year by now; 17 percent has emerged, about average.

Soybean planting was 28 percent complete, a little ahead of average, but behind last year’s early spring.

Luken said he’s seen more farmers opting for milo and millet, rather than spring wheat or corn, because of the lower input costs in a year when prices aren’t looking like anything to brag about come harvest.